Jenny Ewings, Jessica Mooney, Kylie Mayor-Oakley, Tracy Westerman, Aunty G Yow Yeh, Jamal Henaway, Ursula Barber and Letitia Smith.
Jenny Ewings, Jessica Mooney, Kylie Mayor-Oakley, Tracy Westerman, Aunty G Yow Yeh, Jamal Henaway, Ursula Barber and Letitia Smith.

Expert’s mission to combat indigenous mental health

MENTAL health care among indigenous communities is suffering a severe lack of accessibility, particularly in remote and rural areas.

That is what managing director of indigenous Psychological Services Tracy Westerman said during her visit to Rockhampton earlier this month.

The professor visited the region as part of her workshop program, where she travels Australia training healthcare workers in how to better provide psychological support to the indigenous.

Ms Westerman presented her methods at Rockhampton Leagues Club earlier this month in partnership with Central Queensland indigenous Development.

A proud Nyamal woman from the Pilbara region of Western Australia, Ms ­Westerman’s desire to change the fabric of training stemmed from her own experience living remotely.

“Not only do I understand being indigenous in Australia, but also in remote and rural areas and the extra challenges for people getting mental health services in those areas. Access to them becomes a lot more challenging,” she said.

It is this, along with the indifference in treatment between the general population and indigenous communities which inspired her life’s work.

“Ultimately, we as healthcare providers really need to understand their worldview and to know what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes,” she said.

“However, it’s difficult for people trained in a mainstream view of the world to put themselves in the shoes of indigenous people in distress.

“There’s such a litany of things many people aren’t being trained around.”

Ms Westerman said the benefits of her program for healthcare providers would mean a wider breadth of knowledge and hopefully, reduced rates of suicide among indigenous people.

“If you have a whole organisation speaking the same language, then there’s an understanding at a much larger level, which means they’re much more mobilised on patient needs and they’re able to address them practically,” she said.

Touching on the staggering rates of juvenile crime sweeping Central Queensland, she said the issue lay with the government’s failure to address the root causes.

“Eighty per cent of indigenous kids have trauma, we’re not treating the issue or addressing the root cause, but we need to put in place programs to humanise the experience through preventive programs,” she said.

Provisional psychologist James Hamilton attended the three-day event in hopes of gaining better insight as she completes her thesis on cultural therapy and interventions.

“Working in government systems the last couple of years, there’s not been many appropriate programs or interventions for them. There’s a massive gap in those services,” she said.

What is needed to close the gap, Ms Hamilton said, is instead adequate evidence-based research.

“I think a lot of [solutions] would come from having research and using it to build upon,” she said.

“And that’s what this training and workshop with Tracy is all about.”

The CQUni student hopes that others will take the opportunity to learn more about the culture and what can be done to spare the lives of Australia’s indigenous communities.